The Winner of This Year’s W. Eugene Smith $30,000 Photography Grant

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund announced that photographer Irina Werning from Argentina is this year’s recipient of its $30,000 grant for Humanistic Photography for her project Las Pelilargas. Since 1979, the Smith Fund says that it has awarded over $1.3 million to photographers for their past work or proposed projects, following in the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s career as a photographic essayist. “The W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is presented annually to a photographer whose past work and proposed project, as judged by a panel of experts, follows the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s dedicated compassion and humanistic approach to his subjects throughout his career as a photographic essayist,” the Smith Fund says. “Past recipients have included Maxim Dondyuk (2022), Nicolò Filippo Rosso (2021), Sabiha Çimen (2020), Mark Peterson (2018), Krisanne Johnson (2011), Stanley Greene (2004), Graciela Iturbide (1987), Donna Ferrato (1985), and Eugene Richards (1981).”
Now in its 44th year, the W. Eugene Smith Fund’s massive $30,000 grant in “humanistic photography” was awarded to Werning who has been seeking and photographing women in Argentina with long hair — a style that is influenced by a blend of South American cultures and indigenous traditions — since 2006. Ms. Werning’s project was selected from over 448 entries — the most in the grant’s history — from 68 countries. The goal of the grant is to assist Werning in completing the final chapter of her long-term project and allow her to return to the towns she visited early on and document the impact of globalization on local traditions while at the same time celebrating the resilience and beauty of their heritage. IRINA 1 “News that I had received this year’s W. Eugene Smith Grant arrived just when I was about to conclude this personal project due to a lack of funds!” Werning says. “I believe that photography has a responsibility to document conflict but also to capture the hope and beauty within humanity. The grant now gives me the opportunity to go deeper into the story and address some of the questions that emerged throughout this 17-year journey. I am so grateful for this honor.”
“Irina’s project, I believe, represents what the W. Eugene Smith legacy and the fund itself stands for, which is a photographer’s commitment and stubbornness in pursuing the work over the years and against all odds,” Justyna Mielnikiewicz, one of this year’s Smith Grant judges and recipient of the 2016 Smith Grant, says. “But it’s also the personal attachment and responsibility a photographer takes for people and places they document. Irina certainly demonstrated that in her project.” Increased funding allowed the W. Eugene Smith Fund to offer additional grants this year: a $10,000 W. Eugene Smith Fellowship, a $5,000 Leonian Finalist Grant, and a $3,000 W. Eugene Smith Student Grant won by Myriam Boulos, Fabian Ritter, and Oyewole Lawal, respectively. On Tuesday, March 26th (from 12:30-1:30 PM ET) the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund will host a Zoom conference to honor past grant recipients. The Zoom call will feature presentations from Maxim Dondyuk (2022 grant recipient) and Irina Werning (2023 grant recipient), among other past grant recipients. The virtual awards ceremony can be accessed via the Smith Fund’s website.
Image credits: Irina Werning, Courtesy of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund

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